Naturalization into Japan is not easy but it is possible

(This is the text of an article published in two parts, by NKK News--part one in May, 1999. For jpeg, click here. Sent to Fukuzawa, Issho, Friends, UFJ, Signif, JALTCALL, IRPS Alumni May 12, 1999)

TURNING JAPANESE PART 2 Naturalization into Japan is not easy but it is possible

My previous article discussed why people take Japanese citizenship. This article shows how it can be done.

Japanese naturalization, like naturalization procedures anywhere, has three stages--Qualification, Documentation, and Deliberation. Each in turn:

To qualify for citizenship, one must:

Note what is not required: Eijuuken (Japan's "Green Card"), language proficiency (third-year elementary school suffices), or even quantifiable knowledge of Japanese culture (unlike, say, America, which has a history test).

However, Japan's hurdles are more subtle, and they become apparent in the next stage.

Next is Documentation. Since all Japanese citizens have a Family Registry (koseki touhon), to complete one you must present:

This is the biggest hurdle because it is so arbitrary. The Justice Ministry will visit your house, look at your decor, open your refrigerator, even check your children's toys. They will talk to your neighbors to find out how "Japanese" you are.

When I asked officials if this meant I had to wear yukata and sleep on a futon, the response was, "Don't worry. No feeling of incongruity (iwakan) in our inspectors means you pass."

Finally, the third stage: Deliberation.

Applications will take at least a year to process, longer if you have a minor criminal record (like speeding tickets). Preference is given people with Japanese ancestry (like Brazilian returnees) or Japanese spouses, and refusal rates are a closely-guarded secret.

If citizenship is granted, you trade in your alien registration card for a koseki, register a new seal, and use it on documents swearing Japanese nationality exclusively. You then choose a new name (If you want kanji, readings must be Japanese. I would choose 有道 出人, or Arudou Debito.) And that's it. Welcome to Japan, Arudou-san.

In 1993, 11,146 people naturalized, rising to "around 15,000" in 1997. Most new citizens are ethnic Koreans, but there is the occasional Westerner. The author of this article may well be among them in the near future.

(Click here to go to an information site with more details that could not be squeezed into two 550-word articles)

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Copyright 1999, Dave Aldwinckle, Sapporo, Japan